Great performances and fortuitous circumstances converged to lift the Blue Devils to a 4-3 victory over Honaker on Saturday in a crowd-pleasing VHSL Group A state semifinal game at Radford University Field.
“Things just fell our way. We’re just blessed to be here,” said Blue Devils coach Robbie Perry, whose squad will face Chatham in today’s 10 a.m. state championship game — the first VHSL finals held on the Sabbath since 2003.
The Cavaliers (24-2) hammered Rappahannock 14-3 in Saturday’s semifinal opener.
The Blue Devils (21-5) contributed generously to destiny with a combination of timely hits, aggressive baserunning, good pitching and error-free defense. But providence clearly lent a hand.
Southpaw starter Wes Hughes (3-0) was the beneficiary of two rally-killing double plays in the third and fourth innings. The DP in the fourth, turned by shortstop Luke Kirk and second baseman Trey Clark, was typical Gate City gamesmanship, holding the Tigers to one run that frame.
An unassisted double play by Jordan Estepp at first that got Hughes out of a bases-loaded jam in the third inning unscathed was arguably the turning point of the game.
“It’s a game of inches. It always has been and it always will be. If we get the line drive over Estepp’s head, we’re going to score three runs on that,” said Tigers coach Tom Harding, whose squad had lost 9-5 to Gate City in the Region D finals. “But you’ve got to give Gate City credit. They made the plays they needed to make when they needed to make them.”
Honaker (23-2) held the Gate City lineup at bay for three scoreless innings, but Tigers ace Derrick Murphy (10-2) succumbed to Murphy’s Law in the fourth.
One out after Kirk led off with an infield single, Hughes stroked a two-RBI homer 370 feet over left-center.
“It was a fastball low. I just made good contact with it,” Hughes said. “I haven’t been hitting the ball good all year. I’m just glad that when the time came, I got a good hit.”
After Estepp followed with an infield single, Murphy slipped into a control crisis that included his first walk of the game and back-to-back hit batsmen on two consecutive pitches, the second of which plated Estepp for the 3-1 lead.
Honaker cut it to 3-2 in the sixth when David Keene, who’d hit into the third-inning double play, led off with a single and went on to score on a passed ball.
The Blue Devils made it 4-2 in the bottom of the frame after Nick Bright overran second base on a double to right field, hesitated, but somehow managed to slide under the rundown throw to third for a crazy triple. He scored easily on Derrick Miller’s groundout.
Murphy wavered and plunked two more batters, but Keene robbed Kirk of a sacrifice fly by turning a double play of his own. After the catch, his terrific throw from left field nailed speedster Trey Clark at the plate to end the inning.
Bright’s run proved huge. The Tigers didn’t go quietly, threatening to undo Hughes’ handiwork when a Kevin Lester single started a two-out rally in the bottom of the seventh. After Keene’s double scored Lester, Hughes didn’t waste words when Perry went to the mound for a conference.
“They had the No. 4 hitter up. It would’ve been a good situation, lefty against lefty. But I didn’t get to talk to him. He just handed me the ball. He had a feeling, maybe,” said Perry, who called the right-handed Kirk to the mound.
After an intentional walk to Justin Hall, Kirk struck out right-handed batter Clay Smith to collect his second save of the postseason.
“We had some big plays in key situations. Wes pitched a really great game. This is by far the best game he’s pitched all year. He got the big hit for us, too” said Kirk, who, along with Estepp, will be fresh to pitch against Chatham today.